Thursday 24 December 2020

Rapha Festive 500, London Waterways - Day 1: Grand Union Canal

Featured waterways: Grand Union Canal; River Thames 

Distance done: 80km

Distance left: 420km

Terrain: Road, compact gravel, muddy grass, a bit of cobbled road

Weather: Sunny, cold, moderate breeze, 7 degC

Food: Half a banana, Ryvita with peanut butter

Route on Strava:

As with previous occasions when I've done the Festive 500, there is once again a theme. After last year's Park Life Tour, this year's rides will be around London Waterways. Doing the research I discovered that there are so many more waterways in London than the River Thames, the Regents Canal and the Lee Valley Canal and the rivers near where I live, in Crystal Palace  - the Ravensbourne and the Wandle.  There are various other tributaries of the River Thames as well as numerous brooks, canals and basins. So over these 500km or so, I hope to learn a bit about them.

The start of Grand Union Canal at Paddington Basin

Today's ride featured the Grand Union Canal. I set off from South London to join the canal on the Paddington arm, at Paddington Basin. This canal goes all the way to Birmingham and has a few different arms/branches. At the London end you can start at the main arm, at Brentford Lock, West London, or you can start in central London, on the Paddington arm at Paddington Basin. 

So I headed out from Central London, passing nice areas like Little Venice and Ladbroke Grove. I wouldn't be doing a cycling version of Dominic Cummings and going all the way to Birmingham. Just the London area would be good enough for me to test my eyesight! 

Soon after Ladbroke Grove, the scenery became more like a derelict backwater with graffiti, dumped household waste, bike share bikes and shopping trolleys as I went through areas like Harlesden and Kensal Green. Then around Greenford, Horsenden, and Alperton the neighbourhood was tidier as I passed a golf course.

At Greenford the canal took a sharp right-hand turn and headed South to Southall. The surrounding area was a mixture of light industry and residential, with parks and playing fields nearby. Lots of folks were out jogging or doing family walks and bike rides.

At Southall I reached the main arm of the Grand Union Canal and turned right to head North West. Up to now, the terrain had been good. Apart from a brief Paris-Roubaix cobbled section at Paddington Basin, beside St Mary's Hospital, the terrain was a mixture of tarmac and compact gravel. 

However, from the junction, at Bull's Bridge, I was on a soil/grassy track that was quite stony, with muddy sections. The going became slow, it was a bit narrower than the previous sections and there was a lot of stopping to give way to other path users from the local area (mainly pedestrians plus a few cyclists).

Grand Union Canal at Little Venice

I had originally planned to go to Denham, and do a loop around Colne Valley country park. But looking at the map and how much further I still had to do, it didn't seem a sensible option to carry on. I had already done 25 miles (So I would have roughly that to get home.) Doing the planned loop would have added on an extra 20 miles approximately. It would be a slow 20 miles, given the terrain, and I was not feeling fit enough to do 70 miles. (I had had an unprecedented 2 weeks off the bike due to work commitments, prior to starting the Festive 500 so was slightly off form.)

I think in these early days of the Festive 500 challenge it is better to stay comfortably within your limits, get home before dark and feel like you're looking forward to the next day.

So my decision was made - after a brief stint around the nearby Lake Farm Country Park, in Hayes, I made the homeward trek along the main arm of the Grand Union Canal, back to Brentford. 

After passing Bull's Bridge, the terrain was initially compact. But at one point in central Southall things got very muddy, cyclocross style. I only had gravel tyres on my Liv Devote Advanced bike, and I had to be careful not to take risks on the narrow path. I didn't want to end up in the water!

I did wonder if I should duck out and ride on the parallel road. But thankfully, at Hanwell the terrain became more like solid grass. There were still lots of slightly muddy sections and puddles, but with prudence and mudguards, things were manageable. 

My glistening clean Liv Devote gravel bike was being put to the test, and was no longer looking pristine. It coped well, but I realised that I would need to get home promptly so that I would have time to wash the bike before sunset (at 3.55pm).

I pressed on through this rather scenic part of the canal, which doubled as parkland, hoping to reach the end soon. The sight of the big GlaxoSmithKline building at Boston Manor told me I would soon reach Brentford. 

Once I reached the end of the Grand Union Canal, at Brentford Lock, I changed plan again, deciding to take the quicker route home on the roads, rather than following the convoluted dirt/mud track along the River Thames. 

It was a sunny, but very cold breezy day, and I was beginning to feel it - not least the fact that I needed the toilet. During these coronavirus lockdown times most shops, bars and café are closed, so that leaves few options for spending a penny. I therefore had an extra reason to get home sooner rather than later.

The initial on-road section (along Brentford High Street and around Kew Bridge) passed very close to the River Thames. But after Mortlake I said goodbye to waterways for the day. There will be more. 

My route wound it's way through Putney, Earlsfield, Mitcham and Thornton Heath before the familiar Crystal Palace transmitter came into view, and I felt relieved (though not quite in more ways than one), as by now I was feeling a bit tired and hungry.

Then I was relieved (in more ways than one) once I got home and managed to throw on some Muc-Off and hose down the bike before dark and enjoy a well-earned lunch. 

Related posts

Festive 500 (2019) - Park Life Tour, Day 7

Why I like the Festive 500

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